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New Space Force calling CO home under congressional deal

Gen. Jay Raymond, Air Force Space Command commander, speaks to the Air Force Information Technology and Cyberpower Conference in Montgomery, Ala., Aug. 28, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Melanie Cox)
December 12, 2019

In what is seen as a major accomplishment for a bitterly divided Congress, America’s Space Force will call Colorado Springs home thanks to a defense policy bill that lavishes construction cash on the Pikes Peak region and gives troops here bigger paychecks.

The bill redesignates Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs as the Space Force, a new armed-service branch responsible for America’s military efforts in space and defense of satellites.

“It helps cement Colorado Springs as the center of military space,” said Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.

The bill also earmarks $322 million for construction at Colorado Springs bases, including a project that Lamborn says could keep U.S. Space Command here permanently.

Lamborn said while impeachment proceedings are widening some divides in Congress, they did the opposite for lawmakers hammering out the National Defense Authorization Act.

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Instead, Lamborn, a member of a conference committee that crafted the policy bill, said the proceedings have “actually helped” bring lawmakers together. The bill has all sides claiming victory — from President Trump, who has eviscerated House Democrats in recent days, to House Democrats, who introduced two articles of impeachment against the Republican president on Tuesday.

“The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act advances many of President Donald J. Trump’s priorities, including a 3.1-percent pay raise for our troops, providing up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for Federal employees, ensuring survivors of deceased service members receive the benefits they deserve, and establishing the United States Space Force, fulfilling the President’s promise to maintain America’s leadership in space,” the White House said Tuesday in a statement emailed to The Gazette.

Lamborn said the biggest winner of them all could be Colorado Springs.

“I think it has some tremendous victories for national defense and for the Pikes Peak region,” Lamborn said in a Tuesday phone interview from Washington D.C.

Lamborn, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was appointed in September to the conference committee assigned to work out differences between the House and Senate on the Defense policy bill.

The congressman delivered the biggest military construction bonanza seen in the Pikes Peak region in more than a decade.

Schriever Air Force Base will get $148 million for a space operations center to help house U.S. Space Command, he said. That could seal the command’s location in Colorado Springs, were it has been headquartered temporarily for the past several months as the Pentagon mulls a permanent location.

Another $71 million will go to Fort Carson, where a new brigade will help advise and train foreign troops.

At Peterson Air Force Base, $54 million is planned for a facility to house U.S. Northern Command’s special operations contingent and $49 million will go to the Air Force Academy for construction of dormitories at the Preparatory School.

“It represents a lot of hard work,” Lamborn said of the provisions.

Democrats who control the House and Republicans who run the Senate came together for the measure. In the end, thorny issues including whether Congress will allocate cash for a wall along the Mexican border, were put off for battles that are sure to rage amid the 2020 election.

Both sides claimed victory on other provisions, including the family leave policy that will give troops and federal workers more time with newborns and newly adopted children.

“Including paid family leave is a victory for all workers because it will help push more employers in the right direction and ensure more workers get paid family leave,” Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said in an email.

But the most heralded provision in the bill is the Space Force, the first new armed service for America since the Air Force was formed in 1947.

The Space Force will largely consist of the troops who fall under Air Force Space Command, including space troops at Peterson, Schriever and Buckley Air Force bases in Colorado.

Air Force Space Command, and soon the Space Force, is responsible for training and equipping space troops. U.S. Space Command oversees the space efforts of all military branches and would take the lead if war reaches orbit.

And the bill has another provision that firmly plants the new service here.

“Nothing in this subtitle, or the amendments made by this subtitle, shall be construed to authorize or require the relocation of any facility, infrastructure, or military installation of the Air Force,” the bill says in bureaucratic language that means space things in Colorado Springs stay in Colorado Springs.

Whether U.S. Space Command will stay in Colorado Springs isn’t settled by the bill, but its provisions narrow the chances that another state, like Alabama, could grab it, Lamborn said.

The bill also all but names the first head of the Space Force: Air Force Space Command and U.S. Space Command boss Gen. Jay Raymond.

Raymond gets a nod in the bill’s language, which says the Air Force Space Command leader will be the Space Force chief of staff.

While the Space Force’s general gets a seat on the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the measure establishes little in the way of Pentagon management structure for the new service.

The Space Force, with 15,000 troops, will fall under the Air Force, with an assistant secretary at the Pentagon to represent the new service. Space troops will also get a new acquisition office to buy satellites, rockets and other products.

And the new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy will push space issues at the top of the Pentagon’s bureaucracy.

All of the changes in the defense policy bill, however, will have to wait for a new Pentagon budget. The Pentagon has operated on temporary budget bills that don’t include cash for a Space Force.

Lamborn said getting the policy bill passed builds momentum for a budget accord. And the partisan wars may have a ceasefire when it comes to military issues.

“When it comes to national defense, we have a lot of common ground,” Lamborn said.

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© 2019 The Gazette

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.